Finding the Humor in Photographic Catastrophes

Most any photographer that has spent even a modest amount of time shooting has experienced moments of blunders and mistakes that, as far as he/she is concerned, at the time, were horrific catastrophes of monumental proportions. Then of course, years later, they become funny stories that we just love to tell.

Take my 'ol shutter-buddy Beanz Ferbranes. He would kill me if I used his real name. Beanz is a long time wedding photographer. For some reason. I've done a total of three weddings and when I realized those knocked about 10 years off my lifespan - never again. Beanz was shooting an outdoor wedding in someone's backyard, moving about to get the perfect angle. The couple were exchanging vows with him nearby, in front of about 200 people. As he was moving backwards while looking through the viewfinder he apparently didn't see the attendees trying to get his attention and backed right into a pond, complete with waterfall. He went in back first, and if that weren't bad enough, Beanz hated using neckstraps. Yes, the Hasselblad became a projectile - nearly shattering as it struck the little boy statue on the fountain, which was peeing on him as he laid there dumbstruck. Apparently it was funny enough to forgive and they just started the wedding over asfter he changed clothes.

I mainly shoot landscapes and scenics, occasionally seeking out wildlife. Usually wildlife that is behind bars. One day while driving in the San Bernardino mountains I came across a vast pasture with one lone baby cow grazing all by itself. Looked interesting and besides, what harm could a baby cow inflict upon me? I worked my way up to the little Holstein, about 150 yards from the fence. As I started shooting I felt the ground shaking and what sounded like a freight train approaching. As I looked around I saw the biggest, meanest looking mommy cow headed straight for me, about a hundred yards away. I froze, paralyzed with fear, with visions of newspaper headlines about the only photographer in history to be mauled to death by a psychotic mommy cow!

The closer she got the more I realized just how pissed off she really was! And I admit it; I screamed like a girl. I took off to the fence, my Canon tucked under my arm like a football. I'm not a fast runner, but I was that day. When I glanced back she got as close as about fifteen feet, and I swear she had fangs! I thought for sure death was imminent. I leaped over the fence like a champion hurdler, not quite making it, causing another girlish scream, but for different reasons. I made it out alive, but I know that mommy cow would have done horrific things to my body!

The San Diego Wild Animal Park is a great place to get wildlife images without having to make the trip to Africa. It’s also safer. Less likely to get attacked by a man-eating Meerkat.

One day while shooting what turned out to be the best Lion images I’ve ever taken it became apparent that I was under a tree. I was under a tree that a 30 pound condor was sitting in. I was under a tree that a 30 pound condor was sitting in…directly above me. Most of you at one time or another have gotten plopped on by a disgruntled 2 pound Seagull – which you know how

disgusting it is. Imagine a 30 pound bird letting loose of – God knows what. And if this ever happens to you – whatever you do, do not look up! Just don’t.

Words can't describe the feelings when you've realized you made a serious technical mistake. Pre-digital, this of course usually meant when you got the film back from processing. It's also embarrassing because you know the lab guys are laughing at your rolls of frame-after-frame, blank film. Back in the medium format days I had to rent a Mamiya lens for a Yosemite backpacking trip. I had been working with a RB67 for awhile and figured I knew everything about the system. This was clearly confirmed to not be quite accurate when I received about 10 220 rolls of completely blank film. I blamed the rented lens profusely and with language I had never even heard before. I even brought the RB body in to prove it could not have been the camera. That's when they showed me the mirror lock-up button, which was, of course, still locked-up. The humanity. Seven days of body torturing Sierra Nevada trekking, including lugging 30 pounds of camera gear and tripod, and nothing to show for it. There needs to be professionals who specialize in therapy for photographers.

Although I primarily shoot digital now, I do occasionally like to dust off the old 8x10 view camera for landscapes. There is just something about seeing a photographer with his head under a dark cloth that seems to fascinate people. I always seem to attract the smart alecs. “Thought them things went out after the great depression!” or “What, you watching a porno under there?” My response, “Yeah, and it’s of your mother.” Not realizing she was standing next to him.

If you’ve ever worked with a view camera then you know how much work it is and that it’s a series of non-stop adjustments. Checking the light meter, then rechecking because the sun moved. One day when trying to capture El Capitan in all its glory I must have been under that cloth for about ten minutes. With my back starting to get stiff, some kid young kid thought it would be really funny to suddenly jump up with his face right in front of the lens, which of course scared the holy outta me, which hurt my back more. At that particular time I was having anger management challenges and threw the light meter at the kid, not really meaning to hit him in the beak, which sent him tumbling into the shallow stream, crying, and running back to camp to get his daddy. As far as I was concerned he owed me a new meter!

I will admit the transition to digital had more than its share of humorous moments. But genuinely funny. Nothing stupid like realizing shooting RAW doesn’t mean photographing naked! I was really clueless when I bought the cutting-edge Canon EOS 10D. My impression of digital meant simply that instead of shooting on film you are shooting on an image sensor. I loved shooting black and white, which with film sometimes meant using tone altering filters, such as the good ‘ol 25. For the life of me though I could not figure out why that new Canon kept making the pictures red. There was something clearly wrong with the camera!

So, as serious as most of us take the photographic hobby and profession, it’s certainly not without its lighter moments. Whether it’s looking for stunning scenics on a Hawaiian island and being misdirected to an all-male clothing optional area – or not fully connecting a $500 lens while hanging over a 3,000’ drop; while traumatic at the time will always make for some great stories later.

But whatever you do, avoid crazy mommy cows!

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May 26, 2013


Great story and even better lesson in keeping things in perspective. Thanks

May 26, 2013


Well I did forget about the time when I was shooting a wedding.....was doing the bride, groom, and family shots. Right when I took a shot someone thought it would be really funny to sneak up on the groom from behind and yank his britches down.

Was really more disturbing than humorous because the groom clown decided to go commando that day!

May 25, 2013


I like one about condor!LoL! :D

May 25, 2013


OOooooo... I don't want to hear stories of backing up... backing up...

There I was, in the middle of December with temps about 3 degrees above 0, and that's Fahrenheit, not Celsius. I'm on these 80 foot cliffs above Lake Michigan trying to photograph the sunrise and icebergs in the rolling mash of water and ice below.

I'm trying to get the bluff framed right so I back up... back up... just a little more, and...

Over the edge...

Do you know what freezing water does to a body in winter and when you have cliffs along the water, no beach to walk out onto?

I'm writing this only because I landed on a ledge. Thank you, God.

May 25, 2013


A thousand images on a 256mb card? Lemme guess - they showed up on the computer the size of thumbnails at 100% :)

I didn't even address the White Balance issue. That's a blog in itself!

May 24, 2013


oihhh funny! and I can relate as well. 300 plus weddings... do I have stories!
worst thing I think was my one and only time to the grand canyon with my brand new digital camera. and wow... I could get 1000 images on a 256 mb memory card! how cool was that! hmmm.. needless to say I learned fast about raw and digital settings... sigh

May 23, 2013


Oh yes, lots more good stories. Didn't want to show off! :)

May 23, 2013


Nice blog. Good job.

I like the lighter side of things and enjoy a good story.
Better to laugh and smile, there's enough serious crap in the world.
Sounds like you may have a lot more stories waiting in the wings, ready to be told.
Look forward to reading them.

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Photo credits: Chip Clark.